Numismatic and History Discussions > Biblical & Judean Coins

Salome Alexander (76-67BC), Aristobulus II (67-63 BC), Hyrcanus II (67 & 63 BC)


(This is too long for a single post, I'm going to do it in two)

When Alexander Jannaeus died in 76 BC, after a long illness, he left his kingdom to his widow, Salome Alexander, who appears to have issued no coin in her own name. Her elder son, Hyrcanus, was made High Priest, and was regarded as the heir to the throne. Jannaeus had favoured the Sadducees, a small group of aristocratic and immensely wealthy priestly families which controlled the Temple and its revenues, and hostile to the Pharisees, during most of his reign, though he was more conciliatory after the civil war of 95-89. His widow reversed this, and followed pro-Pharisee policies. Josephus says that power was in their hands during her reign, and according to the Mishnah, the leading Pharisee of the time was her brother.

The Pharisees, of course, tended to take revenge on their former persecutors, the Sadducees, but these, supported by Hyrcanus' brother Aristobulus, managed to gain sufficient concessions to avoid a further civil war.

Aristobulus took after his father, unlike the much weaker Hyrcaus, and by the end of his mother's reign, he had gathered a powerful group of his father's former friends around him, and taken control of 22 fortresses across the kingdom. Not surprisingly, the Pharisees viewed this with alarm.

Conflict broke out as soon as she was dead. The Pharisees supported Hyrcanus, the Sadducees Aristobulus. The two sides soon came to battle, but most of Hyrcanus' supporters changed sides. Hyrcanus fled, but soon surrendered to Aristobulus. Power was yielded to Aristobulus, but Hyrcanus retained his property and his income. It is not clear exactly what Aristobulus' formal position was, but in all probablility he became both High Priest and King, like his father. Like his mother, he does not appear to have struck coin in his own name.

An Idumean named Antipater, father of Herod the Great, whose own father had held the office of Strategos (governor) of the region under Jannaeus, now intervened, persuading Hyrcanus to make an agreement with the powerful Aretas III, king of Nabatea. In return for the return of land seized by Jannaeus, he was to support Hyrcanus against his brother. Aristobulus was defeated, and took refuge with his troops in the Temple, where he was besieged by Aretas. At this point both brothers appealed to the Romans for help.

During Jannaeus' reign, the Romans had been largely concerned with their own problems, and their war with Mithridates VI of Pontus; now, they were expanding again. The Republic was collapsing; out-of-control generals, with armies owing their loyalty to them rather than to the Senate, rampaged around the Mediterranean seeking the conquest, and the wealth it led to, which would enable them to take power in Rome. It was to one of these generals, Pompeius Maximus, to whom the brothers sent delegations, both of them offering gifts.

Pompeius supported Aristobulus; Hyrcanus already had an ally in Aretas, and the Romans probably did not want to enable him to become even more powerful than he was already. Scaurus, one of Pompeius’ generals, who had captured Damascus in 65 BC, ordered Aretas to return to his own territory. This he did, suffering heavy losses at Aristobulus’ hands as he went. In 63 BC, Pompeius himself went to Jerusalem. Both brothers appealed again to him, and he also received a delegation from the Jewish people, who wanted the Hasmonean dynasty abolished, and rule by the High Priest. Pompeius promised to sort matters out as soon as he had dealt with Aretas. Aristobulus seems to have anticipated that he would side with the pliable Hyrcanus; he took refuge with his supporters in the fortress of Alexandrium. This provoked Pompeius to invade immediately. Aristobulus surrendered, but his supporters refused, and continued to hold the fortress.

Pompeius then laid seige to Jerusalem. Hyrcanus opened the gates to him, but Aristobulus occupied the Temple. This fell after a 3-month siege; the Roman troops slaughtered the priests as they continued to sacrifice, and Pompeius entered the Holy of Holies itself, which according to the Law could only be entered by the High Priest himself, once a year, on Yom Kippur, when he sacrificed for the unintended sins of the people.

Aristobulus and numerous other prisoners were subsequently led in triumph through the streets of Rome, though they were allowed to live, and released afterwards. Hyrcanus regained the position of High Priest, but Hasmonean rule was effectively over. All the territory conquered by Janneaus, together with many of the territorial gains of his predecessors, was lost, and the Jews were forced to pay tribute to Rome. Effective power fell into the hands of Antipater, who dominated Hyrcanus, and who was, in turn, the willing tool of Rome.

During the civil war which ended the First Triumvirate, the two men supported Caesar, improving their position after his victory. Hyrcanus received the title of Ethnarch, ‘Ruler of the People’, and may have been seen as the legitimate representative of all Jews. Antipater, however, continued to dominate the partnership until Hyrcanus’ death in 40BC

So who, then, was responsible for the issue of Hendin 478, which is so often overstruck on Jannaeus’ issues? I have discussed the idea that they might have been issued by Jannaeus in another thread. Given that so many of them are overstrikes, the likelihood is that they were minted not too long after his death. In this case, they were probably issued by Salome Alexander, in the name of Hyrcanus, who, as stated in the inscription ‘Yonatan the High Priest and the Council of the Jews’ held the office under her.


[0] Message Index

Go to full version